TABLE OF CONTENTS

Collection Summary

Biographical Sketch

Scope and Content

Index Terms

Administrative Information

Processing Information

Preferred Citation

Contact Information

Box List

Detailed Description of the Collection

National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives

Paul and Mary Okanski fonds:

Finding Aid



Collection Summary

Title:Paul and Mary Okanski fonds.
Dates:– 1961, 1972-1973, 2008
Quantity: – 2 cm of textual material, 1 photograph, 18 drawings, and 1 silkscreen print

Biographical Sketch

Paul Okanski was born in 1930 in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) and as a young man was posted to Red Lake with the Bank of Nova Scotia. Not long after arriving he met Mary Miller, whose parents Thomas and Genevieve had moved to Red Lake in 1951 to teach at the local high school. Paul and Mary were married in 1954 and not long after Paul was hired as an assayer at the nearby Cochenour-Willans Gold Mine, where he eventually developed a friendship with Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007), an Ojibway artist who moved to Cochenour in 1959 with his wife Harriet Kakegamic (1935-1995) and children. Beginning in 1960 Morrisseau was employed as a flotation operator in the mill attached to the Willans Mine. He quit his job at the mine in 1962 to concentrate on painting but continued to spend most of his time in the Red Lake area until the early 1970s.

When the Cochenour mine closed in 1967 Paul, Mary and their three children returned to Red Lake, where they purchased a local variety store and coffee counter on Howey Street called the What-Not Shop. A few years later they began making the shop's basement available to Morrisseau, both as a studio space and as a place of refuge. The Okanskis also provided Morrisseau with paints and other supplies, offered his paintings for sale at the store, and shipped paintings and other works to art dealers such as Toronto-based Jack Pollock (1930-1992), who was instrumental in exposing Morrisseau's art to a wider audience in the early 1960s. Pollock first met Morrisseau in 1962, when he was teaching a painting workshop in Beardmore. He organized the first major exhibition of Morrisseau paintings and drawings at his Toronto gallery in September of that year.

The Okanski's lost touch with Morrisseau after he left Red Lake in 1972. Believing in Morrisseau's talent, Paul and Mary kept all letters, diaries,and drawings through several moves, even when storing these items was difficult. Paul passed away at his home in Simcoe, Ontario in 2003.

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Scope and Content

Fonds consist of drawings, correspondence, a 26-page manuscript written by Morrisseau entitled "Biography Life's Thoughts of Copper Thunder Bird," and other textual material given to Paul Okanski by Norval Morrisseau. The eighteen drawings and one print in the fonds are not dated but are believed to have been produced during the early 1970s. The correspondence in the fonds mainly consists of letters and shorter memos between Morrisseau and Paul Okanski dating from 1972-1973. The content of these letters and memos often relate to monetary loans for the purchase of art supplies and other provisions. A few of the letters date from early 1973, when Morrisseau was incarcerated in the Kenora jail for "drunk and disorderly behaviour." Other correspondence includes two letters from the Toronto art dealer Jack Pollock to Morrisseau, two letters from Pollock to Paul Okanski, and letters to Morrisseau from Robert F. Lavack (Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology, North Bay) and John Anson Warner (University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus). Other textual material includes receipts for paintings supplies and other items, and newspaper clippings. The single photograph in the fonds shows Morrisseau's wife, Harriet Kakegamic, in 1961.

Source of title: Title based on contents of fonds.

Immediate source of aquisition: The records were kept by Paul Okanski through several moves since the early 1970s. They were donated to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives by Mary Okanski in 2011.

Terms governing use and reproduction: Written requests for reproduction or publishing of material from the Paul and Mary Okanski fonds must be made to the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.

Finding aids: Series level description, box list, and an item level description for the drawings are available.

Related records: The Nancy Robinson Villarroel fonds consists of six photographs of Norval Morrisseau taken outside a cabin in Beardmore, Ontario in 1962. Four of the photographs show Morrisseau with examples of his work; the two remaining photographs depict Morrisseau with his wife, Harriet Kakegamic (1935-1995). The Dominion Gallery fonds includes several photographs showing Morrisseau at the Dominion Gallery with Max Stern and Michel Moreault in 1975. Several works by Morrisseau were featured in the exhibition Colours of Pride: Paintings by Seven Professional Native Artists held at the Dominion Gallery from March 11 to April 5, 1975 and the photographs of Morrisseau, Moreault, and Stern are believed to have been taken at that time.

Note: Two pages from the Morrisseau manuscript "Biography Life's Thoughts of Copper Thunder Bird" and a letter from Morrisseau to Paul Okanski dated January 17, 1973 are reproduced in Norval Morrisseau and the Woodland Artists: the Red Lake Years, 1959-1980, a book published by the Red Lake Regional Heritage Centre in 2008 to celebrate the Red Lake Woodland Arts Festival: A Tribute to Norval Morrisseau and the Woodland Artists (June 2008).

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Index Terms

Names:
Morrisseau, Norval, 1932-2007
Okanski, Paul, 1930-2003
Pollack, Jack, 1930-1992
Document Types:
Clippings.
Correspondence.
Drawings.
Journals.
Prints.

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Administrative Information

Processing Information

Collection processed and finding aid prepared by Philip Dombowsky in 2011.

Preferred Citation

[Title of item], Paul and Mary Okanski fonds, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives.

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Contact Information

Cyndie Campbell
Head, Archives, Documentation and Visual Resources 
Library and Archives 
National Gallery of Canada 
380 Sussex Drive 
P.O. Box 427, Station A 
Ottawa, Ontario 
K1N 9N4 

T 613-990-0597 
F 613-990-9818 

 
ccampbel@gallery.ca 


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Box List

Box File
Box 1 File 1 Norval Morrisseau manuscript (c. 1971)  
File 2 Mary Okanski interview (2008) 
File 3 Correspondence (1972-1973) 
File 4 Miscellaneous (1972-1973) 
File 5 Drawings, vol. 1 *note: file includes thirteen drawings by Norval Morrisseau 
Box Folder
Box 2 Folder 1 Drawings, vol. 2 *note: folder includes 5 drawings and 1 silkscreen print by Norval Morrisseau 

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Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Item Level Description 

Box
Box 1 1
Title: Untitled [Four Birds]
Medium: Black ink on paper
Dimensions: 22 x 39.7 cm
Inscriptions: Signed Copper Thunderbird in Cree syllabics bottom right.
Note: Slight discoloration along right edge; small stain lower right corner.
2
Title: Untitled [Three Birds]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 23 x 25.2 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: Small stains throughout.
3
Title: Untitled [Moose]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 22.3 x 29.85 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: Discoloration along bottom and right edge; wrinkles along right edge; thin band of green ink or watercolour along left edge.
4a
Title: Untitled [Argal/Arygal]
Medium: Blue ink on paper
Dimensions: 21.5 x 24.9 cm
Inscriptions: "Argal Arygal" in pencil
Note: Small stain along left edge near the middle.
4b
Title: Untitled
Medium: Blue ink on paper
Dimensions: 21.5 x 24.9 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: Verso of no. 4a.
5a
Title: Lucifer Son of Morning
Medium: Blue ink on paper
Dimensions: 24.9 x 21.0 cm
Inscriptions: "Lucifer Son of Morning"
5b
Title: Water Spirit
Medium: Blue ink on paper
Dimensions: 21.0 x 24.9 cm
Inscriptions: "Water Spirit" and "11 Cor Chapter 12"
Note: Verso of no. 5a.
6
Title: Untitled [Bear]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 21.0 x 25.2 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: Slight discoloration throughout page; small stain along right edge near the middle.
7
Title: Untitled [Owls]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 25.1 x 20.1 cm
Inscriptions: None
8
Title: Untitled [Beaver]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 22.35 x 29.85 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: Vertical 3.4 cm tear from upper edge; small tears along left and top edges; wrinkling upper left corner.
9
Title: Untitled [Serpent]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 22.35 x 29.85 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: Vertical crease from top to bottom; small 1 cm tear from top; wrinkling lower right corner; stain upper right corner.
10
Title: Untitled [Four Loons]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 22.35 x 29.85 cm
Inscriptions: None
Notes: Staining upper left corner, along the top edge, and right corner.
11
Title: Untitled [Moose]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 22.3 x 29.85 cm
Inscriptions: None
Notes: Vertical 4 cm tear from top edge near the middle; staining to upper right corner.
Box
Box 2 12
Title: Untitled [Four Loons]
Medium: Black ink on paper
Dimensions: 31.6 x 48.0 cm
Inscriptions: Signed Copper Thunderbird in Cree syllabics bottom right.
Note: Similar in composition to the last item on this list. Light staining to left side of sheet.
13
Title: Untitled [Canoe]
Medium: Green and ochre gouache over graphite on paper
Dimensions: 48.1 x 62.6 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: "Michelangelo Paris" watermark.
14
Title: Untitled [Shaking Tent, Thunderbird, Turtle]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 48.1 x 62.6 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: "Michelangelo Paris" watermark.
15
Title: Untitled [Four Loons]
Medium: Graphite on paper
Dimensions: 55.7 x 76.0 cm
Inscriptions: None
Note: "Strathmore Alexis" watermark; similar in composition to the previous item listed.
16
Title: Untitled [Bear Mother]
Medium: Ink on paper
Dimensions: 60.8 x 45.6 cm
Inscriptions: Signed Copper Thunderbird in Cree syllabics bottom right.
Note: Three small tears along bottom edge; horizontal folds; wrinkles bottom left and top left corner.
17
Title: Untitled [Shaking Tent, Snake, Birds, and other Figures]
Medium: Ink and graphite on brown paper
Dimensions: 59 x 125 cm
Inscriptions: Signed Copper Thunderbird in Cree syllabics bottom right.

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